Today I am continuing my latest blog series on abuse in relationships. Last Friday I blogged about Emotional Abuse, this week, I hope to unpack verbal abuse a little, which is a sub heading under the broader concept of emotional abuse, because verbal abuse affects us emotionally as well.

Before I get started, I want to discuss some basic rights we should expect in any healthy relationship, all of which are violated in a verbally abusive relationship.

These basic rights include:

The right to goodwill from the other.
The right to emotional support.
The right to be heard by the other and to be responded to with courtesy.
The right to have your own view, even if your mate has a different view.
The right to have your feelings and experience acknowledged as real.
The right to receive a sincere apology for any jokes you find offensive.
The right to clear and informative answers to questions that concern what is legitimately your business.
The right to live free from accusation and blame.
The right to live free from criticism and judgment.
The right to have your work and interests spoken of with respect.
The right to encouragement.
The right to live free from emotional and physical threat.
The right to live free from angry outbursts and rage.
The right to be called by no name that devalues you.
The right to be respectfully asked rather than ordered.

(Basic rights excerpt taken from The verbally abusive relationship by Patricia Evans)

Apart from the absence of the above list of items, how else can you tell That you have been verbally abused? Because verbal abuse is under the broader category of emotional abuse, many of the same factors play a part in verbal abuse. Verbal abuse is not only just someone raising their voice and yelling at you or calling you derogatory names, but can be much more subtle as well, involving sarcasm and criticism, put downs and manipulative, controlling speech, that if it has been a ‘norm’ for you all your life, can be hard to recognize and realize the difference between healthy interaction, and that which is abusive. You may think that verbal abuse is readily identifiable, but it can be very concealed, and the manipulation of it can even cause the one being verbally abused to feel as though they are the problem. Often times people don’t realize it is verbal abuse until it escalates and becomes more intense over time, or turns into physical abuse. Often, verbal abuse remains hidden and secretive from outside observation in the early stages of the abuse, often unnoticed by people outside of the relationship. They may even think the abuser is a wonderful person, because that is what is presented in the public eye, leaving the victim of the abuse isolated from outside support, and confused.

Here are some indicators that might suggest whether you are being verbally abused or not.

1. Does he seem irritated or angry with you frequently, even when you are not trying to upset him? 2. Does he tell you in some way that the way he feels is your fault?
3. Do you often wonder what’s wrong with you or why you feel so bad, but don’t know why?
4. Do you feel out of balance, caught off guard by her reactions?
5. Do you feel lost and aimless?
6. When you feel hurt and try to discuss your feelings with her, does she minimize your feelings, ignore them or refuse to talk about it, or outright blame you for something unrelated to what you are talking about to ‘knock you off course” to avoid taking responsibility for her actions?
7. Do you feel disconnected, isolated, confused, disoriented, or believe critical and condemning voices in your head that minimize and devalue your sense of self worth? Specifically messages of put down your partner has said repeatedly in the past?
8. Does he blow up at you and then pretend as if nothing ever happened, often seeming overly cheery later on without apologizing, or owning up to his behavior, as if nothing ever happened?
9. Does he apologize only when you are on the verge of leaving the relationship vowing he will change, but once you concede, he takes no initiative or action to correct his behavior and resumes his usual controlling and belittling behavior? Does he beg you not to leave?
10. You frequently feel frustrated, confused or perplexed by her responses when she doesn’t seem to understand your intentions?
11. She takes the opposite view on almost every opinion you have?
12. Do you feel like you are given double messages a lot? Ie. you express an opinion and the abuser takes the opposite position just to start an argument, or remain in a power position, only to hear the person agree with your opinion with someone else, and when you call them on it, they refuse to acknowledge it happened and blame you for making things up?

All of these things and more are indicators of verbal abuse.

Sometimes it is hard to believe that you are ‘not’ the things your partner accuses you of being because they are said so repetitively that over time you begin to believe the self-defeating messages. It may be hard to tell yourself:

I know that I am not critical.
I know that I am not competitive.
I know that I am not a bitch.
I know that I am not selfish.
I know that I am not ugly.
I know that I am not stupid.
I know that I am not always trying to start a fight, etc. because verbal abuse tends to diminish your self worth over time. So much so that you begin to believe it yourself and no longer need someone to tell you how worthless you are, because you believe it and tell that to yourself over and over. This is not beneficial nor helpful to anyone. You have innate value and worth and no one has the right to tell you otherwise or diminish your value. If someone has said these above messages to you, they are verbally abusing you.

If you believe you are being verbally abused, seek help immediately! It is likely to get worse not better. You need to get equipped with the right tools to help you not only build your self confidence and sense of self worth, but know how to address the behavior and require change to occur, and set limits on behavior that is abusive. If you feel fear about setting limits on abusive behavior, ask yourself why that is. What would happen if you set limits on the abusive behavior? Would you be physically assaulted? Would the abuse get worse? What is the reality of that fear? If you believe that you would not be ‘safe’, it may be time to break that relationship and get out, and seek counseling on how to break the addictive relationship cycle.

Stay tuned.. In a few weeks, I will have some answers on how to respond to the abusive cycle.
Next Friday I will blog about Physical Abuse. Stay tuned, as I will address how to break the abusive cycle in my blog on Friday May 25th. If you believe yourself to be in real and urgent danger, do not wait for my tips on breaking the cycle at the end of May, seek help immediately!

In the meantime, I hope and pray that you are not being verbally abused, and I pray for your safety and protection if you are, and for the strength to break the cycle and to build healthy patterns of relating to others, that you may enjoy real intimacy and respect within your relationships. Do not be deceived by the times the abuser is charming, and ‘intimate’. Real intimacy does not abuse. Real intimacy respects and cherishes the other always. Real intimacy involves the ‘basic rights in a relationship’ as mentioned at the beginning of this blog. If you are manipulated, if there are power plays, or control, aggressive and hostile speech and name calling, this is inappropriate in a relationship and harmful to the health of the relationship. The reality is, no relationship is perfect, and we all ‘lose it’ at times, or manipulate or control, but the question is whether it is habitual, the entirety of the relationship or is it as a result of a traumatic life experience that has brought harm to one or both members of the relationship, that is a mere season of the relationship, and when the trauma settles down, the relationship returns to a harmonious respectful flow, or is this anger and hostility a regular part of the relationship? I will eventually do a series on trauma as well, where I will unpack how trauma plays a role in changing our usual behavior, but for now, I am mentioning it only in reference to knowing how to identify between what is abuse, what is normal anger and what is happening due to a trauma induced life circumstance? A perfect example of how trauma can change one’s usual interactions I am taking from the newly released movie, “The Lucky One” with Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling. There is a scene in the movie when Logan (Zac Efron) comes back from the war, and is staying with his sister’s family, and his nephews come in the room to jump on him and startle him while he is asleep. But what happens is more than what they expected, and by the shocked reaction on his nephews face, you can tell that his reaction of jumping up and pinning hid nephew down on the bed in a choke hold is NOT Logan’s normal interaction with his nephews. This is an example of post traumatic stress disorder and how it affects someone’s usual interactions, and is not to be considered abusive. Being able to distinguish between normal and healthy anger in a relationship and abusive patterns, you may need some help to decipher that if you are unsure. I do not have enough time to get into that in today’s blog.

Remember, seek help if you feel you are in immediate danger!

If you’d like to look at a great resource, check out my one-on-one Boundary Development Program which will help bring control back into your life!

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If you have any questions on today’s blog or would like help on taking steps forward, I’d love to hear from you!  Post a comment below or visit my website and register for your Complimentary Strategy Session to discuss your situation in more detail.

Katie Meilleur – Certified Life Coach

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